Says judgment did not deal with factual and legal issues he raised

Dara Singh, who has been awarded life imprisonment in the Graham Staines murder case, has moved the Supreme Court seeking review of the January 21 judgment and the January 25 modified order.

The Australian missionary and his two minor sons were burnt alive at Keonjhar, Orissa, in 1999.

In his petition, Dara Singh said the judgment did not deal with various factual and legal issues he had raised. He said he was erroneously convicted by the sessions judge, Khurda.

“It is pertinent to note that the sole motive alleged to have driven the petitioner to commit the crime was that Graham Staines was engaged in converting the local tribals to Christianity. The existence of such a motive was the bedrock of the prosecution case, in furtherance of which they successfully built up … a fabricated story of conspiracy and guilt. The sessions judge too accepted the prosecution's version of the existence of this motive and convicted the petitioner,” the petition said.

Dara Singh noted that the January 21 judgment said: “It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone's belief by way of ‘use of force,' provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other.” However, without assigning any reason, the court replaced this sentence on January 25 with: “There is no justification for interfering in someone's religious belief by any means.” (The judgment was modified in light of protests by civil rights groups.)

Why alteration?

Dara Singh said such alteration of the judgment pronounced in open court without notice to the parties, without following the principles of natural justice, and without either party filing any application for it was in gross disregard of the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Supreme Court Rules and all settled notions of law, and against the criminal jurisprudence. It was the settled principle of law that once the court pronounced judgment in a matter, the proceedings before it attained finality, and as such the proceedings were said to be terminated. No application for review or correction of any error was filed by any of the parties to the criminal appeal; nor did the Supreme Court assign any reason for such alteration. In light of this, it was apparent that the order altering the January 21 judgment was in derogation of statutory and constitutional provisions, and hence could not be sustained in the eyes of law.

Legal grounds

On legal grounds, Dara Singh said, there were contradictions in the evidence which was vital and material. Further, the ocular evidence was unreliable with regard to the other 11 accused, who were appropriately given the benefit of the doubt. He pleaded for the application of the principle of parity. The unfair and motivated investigation in the present case stared record in the face. The present case, merely because it was sensational, would not force any innocent individual to end up in jail, Dara Singh said.